Businesses to Take Measured Approach to Portability Rules

Businesses will likely take their time assessing carriers' offerings and then will consolidate on one or two carriers, saving cost.

The new wireless portability rules have been viewed as a boon for both consumers and businesses: The difference, analysts say, is that businesses will be able to use their new freedom to strip down their telecommunications infrastructures into lean, centrally managed organizations.

Few companies reported any changes to their wireless carrier plans after the Federal Communications Commissions local number portability rules went into effect on Monday. The rules allow businesses and consumers to transfer their wireless numbers from carrier to carrier.

But while consumers are likely to hop from plan to plan, analysts say businesses will be far more deliberate in their choices. Businesses will likely take the necessary time to assess how quickly wireless carriers actually transfer accounts and wait until early 2004 to assess their budgets and the offerings from carriers. By consolidating on one or two carriers, customers say, businesses can streamline their billing and IT infrastructure, saving cost.

Firms that have already switched probably had laid plans well in advance, according to Mark Lowenstein, managing director of consulting firm Mobile Ecosystem, in Wellesley, Mass., and a former executive vice president at The Yankee Group. Altiris Inc., of South Lindon, Utah, for example, switched about 100 lines to AT&T Wireless to consolidate the companys wireless infrastructure on a single provider, AT&T representatives and an Alaris spokeswoman said.

Overall, TSI Telecommunications Services Inc., of Tampa, Fla., received about 80,000 portability requests, the company said Tuesday. TSI was selected by five out of the top six wireless companies to route portability requests to the Number Portability Administration Center (NPAC). AT&T Wireless chose to manage the process itself, TSI spokeswoman Helen Harris said. Harris said she did not know what percentage of those requests were from businesses, or whether one request was needed per user.

In all, however, the immediate impact of portability will be relatively insignificant. "We see it as a productivity increase," sad Gene Trudell, vice president of business services at U.S. Steel, in Pittsburgh, which employs approximately 23,000 workers.

Trudell and his user base wont receive new numbers if they shift carriers, which will save the incidental costs of printing new business cards and updating corporate databases. "Its not going to be one of those things where it will reduce our cost by a million or more," he said. "It will just be another thing in our bag of tricks."

A spokesman for Intel Corp., of Santa Clara, Calif., said the new rule "hasnt changed anything for us."

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